Vernon community radio push gains energy

Group in Vernon hoping to put ‘The Valley’ on the air in the North Okanagan

There’s a name and a possible spot on the radio dial.

Now, a planned Vernon community radio station is hoping to receive a broadcasting licence.

The brainchild behind the station enlisted social media to come up with a name for the station and pick a winner.

“The board narrowed things down to five and from those five, we launched a social media poll to pick the winner which is Valley FM,” said Gord Leighton, former Sun-FM general manager and 50+-year broadcast veteran, who is spearheading the drive to bring a community radio station to the North Okanagan by forming the Vernon Community Radio Society.

“There will be derivatives of the name, such as ‘The Valley,’ ‘The Valley Voice,’ ‘The Valley Vibe’ and others.”

Leighton is joined by a four-person board whose objective is to bring a community station that would serve Greater Vernon, from Coldstream through to the north end of Swan Lake, and – “hopefully,” said Leighton – to Armstrong. The board’s engineering consultant said to expect to have a radio transmitter operating at approximately 1,500 watts.

A technical brief will be prepared by a professional engineer to Industry Canada and the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The brief will confirm a radio frequency, which Leighton says, at the moment, looks like the FM dial position would be 97.9 MHz.

“The technical brief will take up to six weeks, more or less, depending on a variety of factors,” said Leighton. “With a completed brief, our application to the CRTC should be filed before the end of June. After that, it’s a waiting game.”

Leighton said the commission could issue a licence without a public hearing if they deem the application to be in the public’s interest and straightforward. They could put the application on an agenda of a public hearing, or they could receive the application and defer it to a public hearing at a later date. In the meantime, the CRTC would issue a public call, inviting others to apply for either a commercial or community station.

“At the earliest, a CRTC decision could take 60-75 days,” said Leighton. “At the latest, and assuming the matter is slated for a public hearing, it could take six months.”

The CRTC, said an optimistic Leighton, rarely rejects applications for community radio stations.

One major hurdle facing the board is money. They will need around $100,000 to purchase equipment, renovate studio and control room space and install the necessary hardware.

“This will require a major effort by the board and as many volunteers as we can muster to create and execute fundraising events and reach out to the business community,” said Leighton. “We will only begin to do this once we receive licences.”

RELATED: Broadcast veteran discusses community station

Programming a community radio station is a hot topic among prospective listeners.

Leighton said The Valley’s music content will be 40 per cent Canadian and, as required by the CRTC, provide programming that is “demonstrably different from current offerings.”

“We will not be leaning heavily into pop and top-40 music,” said Leighton. “Nor will we be heavily reliant on music from the ‘80s and ‘90s,” referring to the programming offered by Vernon’s two FM stations Sun and Beach.

Leighton said an audience survey conducted by the board showed strong support for country music, new and traditional, as well as classic rock and alternative rock.

“Interest in niche genres was fairly evenly distributed with folk, jazz, oldies (’60s and ‘70s),” said Leighton. “Classical, hip-hop and bluegrass also scored a respectable level of interest.”

One important focus of The Valley will be to provide access to the airwaves by local talent.

“At the moment, it’s difficult if not impossible for aspiring singer-songwriters to garner local radio airplay,” said Leighton.

The community station, as per licence requirements, would include 15 per cent spoken word programming, which includes news, interviews and commentaries.

“We intend to include a daily Monday-to-Friday local open-line program, about 90 minutes in length, mid-morning,” said Leighton. “This will provide a platform for robust debate on issues of community importance.”

The community station will rely heaving on volunteers. The average number of volunteers at Canadian community radio stations is about 60.


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